Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
From: Bandai Namco
Who it's for: Anyone looking for a fun, quirky JRPG that feels both old and new
Console: PC, PS4
Japanese role-playing games — or JRPGs — sport a distinct feel apart from their Western counterparts. Everything from the art direction to the combat systems look and feel different, and for fans of the subgenre, that look and feel is everything. Then there's "Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom," a JRPG with a pedigree and a lot to live up to.
The first "Ni No Kuni" game was a collaboration with the famed Studio Ghibli ("Princess Mononoke," "Spirited Away") and featured the lush animation that company, the Eastern answer to Disney, is known for. While the sequel did not continue this collaboration, it did keep both the character designer and composer from the original, keeping the Studio Ghibli influence intact.
Set several hundred years after the first game, "Ni No Kuni II" finds the world in the throes of a political coup. The king of Ding Dong Dell has died and the leader of the rodent-like Mousekin has stolen the Kingmaker from young prince Evan, taking his place on the throne.
If you stopped cold at Ding Dong Dell and Mousekin, this may not be the game for you. There are also cat people, dog people, fish people and many more cute flourishes. And we haven't even gotten to the Higgledies. Then there's Roland, a leader from an Earth-like realm who was transported to the whimsical fantasy world (and arrived about 30 years younger — mysteries with no quick answers) and must help Evan regain his rightful place.
Over the next hundred-plus hours, players will control Evan, Roland and a ragtag party of idealists as they explore the world, start their own kingdom, complete more than 100 side-quests and about as many errands, recruit citizens, find Higgledies and battle a plethora of mystical beasties.
Broken into chapters like a storybook, the game introduces its many concepts slowly. There's an intimidating number of things to learn, but it never feels overwhelming. Battles happen in real-time, with the player controlling one character while two others fight on their own. You can switch at any time, though you will likely only do so if your main character falls.
The fights are fast and furious, though the game still counts on you to play strategically. You must be sure to keep your characters equipped with the best weapons and skills (spells) available, or you'll soon find yourself at a disadvantage. You will do a lot of resource gathering, necessary to craft and upgrade equipment and more. It's another nuanced touch — one common to RPGs these days — that gives the game another added dimension.
There are times you'll question whether or not the game needs another dimension. In fact, there's no way to include everything in a review of this length. Things like the skirmishes, featuring companies of soldiers facing off against organized groups of enemies, plays like nothing else I've ever seen in a game, and is a joy to master.
Just to keep you thinking, there's also a little light strategy in the kingdom simulator. You don't just start your own kingdom; you're in charge of how it grows. What facilities open when? Who run them? What do they make and sell? Your decisions here affect the larger game, and you'll spend plenty of time tweaking this and that to make your kingdom match your personal vision.
Now, it's easy to throw a million things at a player and call it a game. It doesn't matter if it isn't fun. "Ni No Kuni II" goes beyond fun: It's a magical experience for those who enjoy this type of game. It harkens back to classic JRPGs, like the early "Dragon's Quest" and "Final Fantasy" games, keeping a lot of classic concepts while introducing new ideas and game systems to advance the genre.
You will find yourself grinding sometimes, out hunting monsters to gain a level or two before tackling a particularly hard foe. But all monsters are out in the open, and you can see what they are and their level before engaging in battle.
Weaker foes will avoid you so you can travel the land un-accosted when you wish. But if you let your guard down, you may bump into a beastie 20 levels above you and find yourself respawning at the last save point.
"Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom" is a wonderful, whimsical JRPG that feels familiar and fresh. It will please genre fans and might just make a few new believers who give it a chance.